For women and children fleeing violent relationships in their homes, the Family Crisis Services shelter is a beacon of hope.

Most of us don’t hear about the shelter much, partly because the location is, for obvious reasons, secret.

But getting the word out about the people served – and what they need – is crucial to any fundraising effort.

“It’s very hard to raise money for domestic violence services because nobody wants to be identified with the issue,” said FCS director Lois Galgay Reckitt. “Yet one in four women will experience it in their lifetime.”

A year and a half ago, FCS employees asked volunteers if they would be interested in planning a community fundraiser. The result was the first-time event, New Beginnings: Providing Shelter, Finding Hope Gala Benefit, on Wednesday at Grace restaurant in Portland. The event featured a cocktail reception, live and silent auctions, and a sit-down surf-and-turf dinner during the presentation. More than 130 attended at $75 per person.

“It’s time to take away the veil of shame and say ‘no more,’ ” said Gala Committee chair Marianne Westervelt.

FCS receives federal and state grants, but sometimes critical expenses come up that aren’t covered because of restrictions in government funding.

Barbara Foley, an elder advocate with FCS, said, “This gala is raising money to allow us to support the women in the shelter.”

“No matter what their needs are,” added Lynn Carter of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “And everyone’s needs are different.”

Though FCS has programming for both men and women, the shelter is reserved for victims of domestic violence who are female – and their children. Last year, the shelter served 83 families, including 41 children.

“We can house 16 people at a time,” said FCS staff member Stephanie Eklund. “But those beds are continuously full. We have to turn away about five to 10 people per day.”

If there isn’t another shelter with an opening available, Eklund explained, there are few alternatives. “They could go back to the relationship they’re trying to flee, or they could live on the street,” she said.

“For law enforcement, FCS is a great organization to call on behalf of the victim. A lot of victims just don’t know where to turn,” said Cumberland County Chief Deputy Naldo Gagno. “They really need a safe refuge, an in-between, until they figure out where they’re going to go. We’re finding that domestic violence is very widespread.”

While law enforcement focuses on prosecution, FCS provides counselor advocates to accompany victims to court. Stephanie Noyes, one of the FCS employees at the gala, explained that she helps people when they are filing for protection from abuse orders.

Her mother, Tracy Noyes, the owner of Redefining Yoga and Pilates in Windham, volunteers at the shelter every Sunday, teaching yoga to the women and children.

“Yoga is very healing,” Noyes said. “It seems to have been very beneficial, so we keep going in.… I learn a lot from the women and children in the shelter. We don’t put thought into how lucky we are to have a bed to wake up in – with a blanket. But they do.”

“When I moved to the area and I was reporting, there were a lot of domestic violence stories,” said Erin Ovalle, a morning anchor with WMTW Channel 8. “While I was on the scene reporting, I met Lois, the director of Family Crisis Services, and some board members.… It’s a cause that I’d do anything for. My family has had some domestic violence issues in the past, so it’s close to my heart.”

“We often have the perception that it only happens to someone else,” said keynote speaker Marianne Fenton, a survivor of domestic violence and a family law attorney who works with others who have suffered from it.

“I was a practicing attorney and active member of the community, and yet this was part of my life for a period of time,” Fenton said. “A judge once told my attorney, ‘That Marianne Fenton ought to get a gun and learn how to use it.’… If that was my experience, as a woman who had what we consider power in our society … what does it feel like to be one of the victims of domestic violence without the resources I had?”

In Maine, domestic violence is reported every 90 minutes, and almost half of the homicides in the state are related to domestic violence.

“I hope this is the start of something big for us,” said Diane Westcott, a Gala Committee member from Gorham.

“Every dollar matters,” said Dorothy Royle, an artist from Portland who served on the Gala Committee and designed the invitations.

In fact, the silent auction included requests for $50 bids – enough to provide bedding for one new shelter resident.

“I was lucky to make it out alive,” Fenton said, reflecting on her own experience with domestic violence. “And my son is a delightful and respectful young man, if I do say so myself.”

In addition to sheltering victims, FCS strives to prevent domestic violence at the onset, partnering with the Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program that demonstrates to male high school athletes that the strength of their character is greater than the strength of their arms and legs.

Adam Skibek, sales manager for the Maine Red Claws, advocates for the Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program and how it models character traits such as respect, honesty and standing up for what’s right.

“It’s a great message, and it’s a message that’s super-important to get out at a young age,” Skibek said. “All the kids in high school want to be pros, so we put pros in front of them as role models.”

“That’s why this program is so important,” said FCS board member Amy Taylor, “because it shows men how to act toward women.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:[email protected]